Court of Appeal judge’s widow Lady Lavinia Nourse was today cleared of historic sex offences after calling the claims ‘completely repulsive’ and saying her abuser was ‘obviously after money’.
The 77-year-old wiped away tears as a jury found her not guilty of abusing a boy under the age of 12 in the 1980s.
The court heard how Lady Nourse’s gilded life as the wife of one of the UK’s most senior judges, Sir Martin Nourse, who wined and dined former Cabinet Ministers at their £2.75m county house came crashing down when the allegations were made against her.
She defiantly denied the historic offences had taken place, claiming that her accuser who is now an adult was ‘very psychologically disturbed’ and was trying to extort money from her, nearly three decades after they were said to have taken place.
Lady Nourse, from Newmarket in Suffolk, said that he only came forward to ‘blackmail’ her after her husband died aged 85 in 2017.
After she was cleared of all counts, she sat back down, slumped forward and rested her head on the desk in front of her with her arms folded around it.
As she left the Nightingale court, in the Knight’s Chamber at Peterborough’s cathedral, she told reporters: ‘It’s a happy result.’
She added: ‘Finally some good news.’
Speaking after the result, Dame Mary Archer told MailOnline: ‘I am delighted but not at all surprised that my friend Lavinia Nourse has been cleared of all the charges brought against, and that her ordeal finally is over.’
Lady Lavinia Nourse waves from her car as she leaves court in Peterborough, after being cleared of historic sex offences
Lady Lavinia Nourse (pictured outside court today), was today found not guilty of sexually abusing a boy in the 1980s
Her barrister also claimed that the victim had made a ‘determined and coordinated’ attempt to ‘obtain money from her’ before going to police in the hope that he could later ‘sue her as a convicted paedophile’.
She told the police that the claims were ‘completely repulsive’ and that her accuser’s evidence was a ‘fantasy’ and ‘beyond belief’. Giving evidence in the witness box, she wept as she repeatedly denied indecently touching him.
She accused him of making up the claims to force her into handing over money to him when he was an adult, saying: ‘He is most definitely lying’.
A statement issued on behalf of Lady Lavinia Nourse today read: ‘Today I have been completely exonerated of all allegations made against me.
‘These cruel and baseless allegations were made after the death of my husband Sir Martin Nourse and my life since that time has been a living hell.
‘Allegations made during the trial sought to traduce the memory of my beloved husband, who it was claimed had turned a blind eye.
‘Defending myself and my husband’s memory during the trial has been the most difficult and heaviest burden of my life. My very greatest relief in being exonerated is having my husband’s reputation fully restored.
‘I would like to thank all those who supported me including Jonathan Caplan QC, Ben Newton, Sandra Paul and all at law firm Kingsley Napley for their unwavering support.’
Giving her evidence earlier in the trial, Lady Lavinia had told jurors the complainant was ‘obviously after money’ and that the allegations were ‘completely untrue’.
When she was interviewed by police in 2019 she said she was ‘shocked’ when she was first told of the accusations against her.
‘To me this is a complete fantasy,’ she said. ‘I don’t know what he’s talking about.’
Later in the interview, she said: ‘I’m finding this very difficult. It really is cloud cuckooland.’
During her trial the jury was told of her enviable life, how she and Sir Martin went on shooting weekends and counted former foreign secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind and his late wife as close friends.
They also enjoyed ‘wonderful’ yachting holidays and even Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve family get-togethers with disgraced Tory peer Lord Archer and his wife Mary.
Lady Nourse has a keen interest in racing and bought her husband a share in a horse, Peace Price, which proved to be a good investment. The horse won two of its seven races, including the Tamdown Handicap at Newmarket in June 15 – a moment Sir Martin regarded as a highlight in his life.
Lady Nourse (seen today) was cleared of five counts of indecently assaulting a boy and 12 counts of indecency with a child
She and Sir Martin were also known for hosting parties for friends at their country home, Dullingham House, near Newmarket in Suffolk. The early 18th-century property is set in grounds designed by Humphry Repton, regarded as the successor to Capability Brown. Lady Nourse has since moved but still lives in Newmarket.
Incredibly, her trial heard claims that Sir Martin who was vice president of the Court of Appeal had known of her abuse, but chose to ignore it and ‘turned the other way’.
High profile friends of the couple described the judge as being ‘a man of the ‘highest integrity’, and Lady Nourse’s defence team said it was therefore inconceivable that he would have done nothing if told of any abuse.
Sir Martin who was 11 years older than his wife met her in London when she was working for a public relations company.
The couple married in 1972 and moved to his home North End House in Grantchester near Cambridge, which he had bought in the 1960s with cash inherited from his grandmother.
Lady Nourse went on to oversee building work on the house and had two children, before returning to work, firstly as a flower arranger for high society parties, and later re-starting her PR career.
She went on to spend up to several days a week working in London while her children were cared for by a nanny at her family home in Cambridgeshire.
Lady Nourse enjoyed a high profile career organising premiers for Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Starlight Express and Phantom of the Opera in London and New York as well as having a part in the Queen’s 60th birthday celebrations.
But behind her glitzy job and her love of socialising with friends from the world of politics and law, and the court heard she had a more erratic personality and was prone to ‘flying off the handle’ and having ‘terrifying rages’ where she would scream abuse at people around her.
The alleged abuse of the boy was said to have happened partly during a period when she was suffering from severe depression.
She was treated by the head of the psychiatric department at Addenbrooke’s Hospital, Cambridge, and had prolonged stays in clinics and health spas such as Champneys and Shrublands near Ipswich.
She largely avoided public disgrace after she was caught shoplifting at Harrods in 1983 when she was aged 39 and had the charges dropped during an ‘in camera’ hearing at Horseferry Road magistrates court, reportedly due to her medical issues.
Dame Mary Archer appeared as a character witness last week, describing Nourse as ‘kind hearted’ and ‘generous’, a keen flower arranger and hostess who doted on her grandchildren
It was reported at the time that she had been charged with stealing two handbags, two pearl necklaces and five belts worth £358.40, as well as two carpets worth £190 from the top store on the same day.
The alleged abuse victim told the court that he tried to bury away his memories of what she had done for years and never told anyone about it before getting married and having children, and becoming ‘increasingly troubled by his recollection’.
The man told the jury how he had been effectively ‘groomed’ by her and that her abuse of him became ‘normalised’ in his mind throughout the 1980s.
The court heard claims that Lady Nourse had even bought her accuser a copy of Penthouse magazine in 1985 because it contained nude pictures of singer Madonna which he wanted to see, although she said she had no recollection of it.
He told how he began talking to others about the ‘abuse’ and finally confronted Lady Nourse in January 2018, around two months after the death of her husband.
Lady Nourse, from Newmarket, Suffolk, was married to Sir Martin Nourse (pictured), who died in 2017 aged 85
At the time she was about to take on a new role, teaching children to read at a local school, and was a volunteer visitor at Highpoint Prison in Stradishall, Suffolk.
The man said he wanted her to admit what she had done and accused her of failing to take responsibility after she repeatedly told him that she had no recollection of it.
The jury at a temporary Nightingale court in the Knights’ Chamber at Peterborough Cathedral heard how he eventually went to police and Lady Nourse was interviewed, but denied that any abuse had happened.
The prosecution case was strengthened by a woman who gave evidence to say she had twice walked into a room and saw Lady Nourse carrying out a sexual act on the boy.
The woman said that Lady Nourse and the boy were alone in the room on the first occasion and she had carried on regardless despite her presence.
The second alleged incident happened possibly several weeks or ‘a couple of months later’ when a woman was also present and ‘smiling’ as Lady Nourse carried out the abuse in front of her, she said.
Jonathan Caplan QC, defending Lady Nourse, suggested to the witness that the abuse did not happen.
Lady Nourse also denied that the incidents described by the woman had happened, saying of the first incident: ‘It’s simply an impossible scenario. It’s just not true.’
Speaking of the second incident, she told the court: ‘It’s a disgusting thought. I am sorry it didn’t happen.’
A woman told the trial that she had also once walked into a room and saw the boy lying motionless in an ‘inappropriate’ position.
Former foreign secretary Sir Malcom Rifkind (above) yesterday described Nourse as ‘very gregarious’ and ‘sociable’ while giving evidence on her behalf in Peterborough
The woman said she immediately walked away from the ‘quite frankly, extraordinary’ scene and had never seen anything like it before.
She said she never mentioned it to Lady Nourse afterwards, but was so concerned that she spoke to a psychiatrist about what she saw.
But doubt was also cast on the quality of her evidence when she admitted that she had not seen any sexual movement.
Dame Mary Archer gave evidence last week, describing Lady Nourse as a ‘kind hearted’ and ‘generous’ woman, a keen flower arranger and hostess who doted on her grandchildren.
Her appearance brought back memories of her High Court appearance in 1987 when she gave evidence for Lord Archer who was suing the Daily Star newspaper for reporting that he had sex with a prostitute.
Lady Archer, who is chair of the Science Museum and president of the Addenbrooke’s Hospital charitable trust, said she had got to know Lady Nourse and her husband in 1980 when they both lived in Grantchester.
She recalled going on yachting holidays to Turkey and the east coast of America with Lady Nourse and Sir Martin, and also visiting each other’s homes on Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve for many years.
She said that she and Lady Nourse had a mutual love of cats, and added: ‘She has a kind heart. She has a wide circle of friends.
‘She is well read and I am very, very fond of her. Sir Malcom Rifkind who was defence secretary in John Major’s Government from 1992 until 1995 and foreign secretary between 1995 and 1997 also appeared as a character witness.
He said of Lady Nourse: ‘I always found her very sociable, very gregarious. I was aware that she herself had her own career.
‘She wasn’t simply what would have been called in the olden days a housewife. She had opinions and was articulate and fun and very sociable.’
Sir Malcolm, 74, and his late wife had met the Nourses in the late 1990s and the two couples regularly stayed at each other’s homes.
He said he spoke more with Cambridge-educated Sir Martin, who specialised in property and tax cases, and had a distinguished legal career which included taking silk aged just 38, and becoming a Chancery High Court judge ten years later.
Sir Malcolm said: ‘Sir Martin was not only a judge with all that implies. He was pretty traditional. He came across as a bit old fashioned and traditional. He came across as a man of the highest integrity.
‘He had the highest standards of personal integrity and also what he hoped for and expected in other people. He wasn’t tactile in the sense of hugging and kissing. I think he had a great love for his family.’
Sir Malcolm added: ‘He expected high standards from his own family as well as everyone else he came into contact with.’
Michael Mates, a Conservative MP for 36 years and a former Northern Ireland minister, said that he and his wife, Christine, met Lady Nourse and Sir Martin on holiday in Peru in 2007.
Asked to describe her, he told the court: ‘Calls a spade a spade. She’s a very direct person. She’s a very good woman, does a lot of good work, and her care for Martin over the years he was so ill was absolutely exemplary.’
Journalist and historian Simon Heffer, a former deputy editor of the Spectator and Daily Telegraph, told how he had met Nourse and her husband at a New Year’s Eve party in Cambridgeshire.
He said that he would meet up with the couple ‘at least half a dozen times a year’ which included shooting days with Sir Martin.
Professor Heffer added: ‘We have seen more of Lady Nourse since her husband’s death. She was utterly stricken by his death. She was quite often distraught. I remember at his funeral she was not far off prostrate with grief. She was in a hell of a state after being widowed after a long and happy marriage.’
He said that Sir Martin had ‘a long period of infirmity before he died’, leading to his wife looking after him as ‘a full time occupation’.
Prof Heffer said: ‘I have no doubt that the devotion she showed to him in the good times was redoubled in the bad times before he died.’
He added: ‘I regard Lady Nourse as one of my closest friends. I have known her for 25 years She is a person I regard of being of complete integrity and probity who is very loyal to her friends. That is why I wanted to come here today.
‘Sir Martin was one of the most upright people I have met in my life. He took his responsibilities as a very senior judge very seriously. He had a cast iron belief in justice. He absolutely believed in the rule of law and in doing things properly.’
The defendant, who stood beside her legal team, wiped away tears as the verdicts were returned.